12 Ways to Rediscover Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes
The place you remember, the one you love, hasn’t changed.
Neither have some of the best ways to experience the magnificent landscape or the quaint small towns that are the heart and soul of this special destination. Of course, experiencing something wonderful from a different perspective can also be a whole lot of fun! That’s why we’ve put together “12 Ways to Rediscover Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes.
“There are days when life makes you feel as though you’ve been poured into a blender and whizzed into a froth of nervous exhaustion. As a resident of New York City, I find this happens to me with disconcerting frequency. But when it does, I have a solution: hightail it 200 miles northwest, to the Finger Lakes.” - Ray Isle, Travel + Leisure
We had nothing to do with making the land so breathtaking. But we have played a part in finding ways to immerse ourselves in that majestic scenery.
Hiking through the wilderness is one of the most unique, exciting and personal ways to experience the beauty of the region. With an assortment of trails ranging from short sojourns to day hikes to long-distance thru-hiking (you could take up to a couple months if you want to cover all the trails), Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes offers an assortment of locales where you can get out and stretch your legs.
From the Houghton Land Preserve to Spencer Crest which are both located just a few minutes outside Corning’s charming downtown, to Mossy Bank State Park perched high above the valley overlooking Bath, to the nearly 1,000 mile Finger Lakes Trail winding its way throughout the region, we’ve got hiking trails for novices as well as seasoned hikers.
There’s something special about having a chance to leave your mark on the world. When you travel, you not only get that chance, you also often discover that the world leaves its mark on you.
Being near or on or, especially, in the water is one highly recommended way to experience this. It’s also a great way to get outside, and even socialize, while maintaining some distance.
Whether you want a little alone time paddling a kayak, or you’re craving the chance to get out on open water jet skiing with friends or you’re looking to spend some fun family time on a pontoon boat, there are a number of exciting ways to explore the wonderful wet surface of Keuka Lake.
If you don’t own your own gear, places like Keuka Watersports are taking extra precautions so you can rent equipment and experience lake life for yourself. Paddle boards, kayaks, jet skis, pontoon boats, and more are available to rent.
You can also arrange for a shoreline cruise of Keuka Lake or private charter with On Keuka Water Taxi which offers a number of services including tour combinations that mix time on the water with tastings at local wineries or craft breweries.
And with multiple rivers and other lakes throughout the county, there are a number of waterways you can explore, like the Chemung River or smaller lakes like Loon, Waneta and Lamoka.
Quietly curving over hills, through forests and between farmland or overlooking beautiful lakes and other waterways, the winding country roads and byways connecting our small towns offer a variety of scenic views and cycling opportunities.
Whether it’s a short flat route around Avoca that’s prefect for families or a 51-mile trek one-way from Addison to Stony Brook State Park, cycling is a great way to see the countryside and experience the breathtaking details and sometimes subtle nuisances of the stunning Finger Lakes landscape.
If off-road biking is more your thing, how about a challenging mountain bike trail through the woods at Mossy Bank State Park? Designed and blazed by experienced riders, the trail offers a great quad burn and some spectacular views.
If you are all about competition, keep an eye out to see when annual events like Tour de Keuka, the Hills on Fire Enduro XC or the Prattsburgh Gravel Classic and other local races will be returning to action. And for more ideas about possible cycling experiences, check out this post from Roots Rated.
Bon Appétit Appalachia identified Corning’s Gaffer District as a top culinary destination. With over 100 boutique shops, galleries, studios, and restaurants, this small town’s historic district raises the bar for culture, fun, and also great food.
We’re talking everything from long-standing family favorites, to ethnic choices offering Mexican, Indian, and Asian fare, to hot spots blending great energy, a fresh vibe and exceptional cuisine. Whether you’re craving a casual hot dog stand, authentic southern BBQ, creative small plates and tapas, or upscale surf-and-turf eateries, prepare to get your fill of excellent dining options. Add in the excellent eateries in nearby towns like Hammondsport and Hornell and you could plan your trip around food.
We’re getting hungry just thinking about it.
Although, let’s not forget the other tastemakers and culinary wizards crafting award-winning brews, ciders, spirits and wines. Many of them have put the region on the map when it comes to exceptional culinary offerings.
After all, Steuben is where Finger Lakes Wine Country got its start (the first grapes were planted here over 190 years ago) and it’s where grape growers and wine makers continue to innovate, excite, and delight the palate of locals and visitors from across the world. With pioneer wineries like Pleasant Valley Wine Company and Bully Hill Vineyards, revolutionary wineries like Dr. Frank’s, as well as a number of up-and-coming winemakers turning heads in the wine world, your taste buds and your belly will thank you for visiting.
It should probably be noted that wine country isn’t just wine country anymore. With a wide-range of craft brewing styes and flavors being created by over 30 breweries, cideries, and distilleries, the Craft Your Adventure Trail has blossomed into something worth savoring. Not to mention the awesome outdoor adventure pairings you can find nearby using the Craft Your Adventure app. Here's a great post by beer guru Josh Bernstein on drinking local.
Local farm markets and farm stands also offer an abundance of delicious, fresh, local foods. Steuben County is part of a five-county initiative promoting local agricultural experiences called Finger Lakes Farm Country.
With wonderful picnic spots, like those at Stony Brook State Park or Mossy Bank State Park, get some food to go and spend a day exploring the outdoors and treating your tummy to a taste of the Finger Lakes.
Sitting around a campfire with friends or family, listening to the crackle of burning wood, the sounds of laughter and of stories being shared, gazing up at the stars overhead . . . these are all traditional signals that summer has finally arrived. And a great way to immerse yourself in the outdoors while spending quality time with the people who matter most.
Since you take your accommodations with you, an RV offers you your own private space, as well as mobility. That’s a level of control over your environment you don’t get in most other methods of travel. If you don’t have your own RV, however, a number of campgrounds offer private cabins or lodges for you, your family and friends.
Many campgrounds have an assortment of outdoor activities like paddling, fishing, and hiking available for campers.
With four rivers, numerous streams, as well as an abundance of lakes, fishing is a great way to get outside while also keeping to yourself.
Whether you’re looking for some quiet time in the current, or the challenge of the fight, all those waterways mean a variety of methods for catching fish as well as a wide range of fish just wait to be caught. From landlocked salmon, brown trout, lake trout, northern pike, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rock bass, alewife, black crappie, bluegill, pumpkinseed, smelt, yellow perch, muskellunge, tiger muskellunge, walleye, sunfish, brown bullhead, and carp.
You’ll also find shiners, suckers, bullhead, and more in the sundry smaller lakes and ponds throughout the county.
If you prefer fishing on your own, hiring a local guide, or taking part in a fishing excursion, grab your gear and get ready for some fun.
Taking the road less traveled also means seeing sights other folks miss. Rustic homesteads, the patchwork of farmland, rolling hills. Riding beneath a canopy of trees that have spent decades coming together over the road. The way the light shines through the branches, not just on your ride, but on you. The way you’re really part of it all.
With our daily lives geared for getting places fast, there’s something remarkable about slowing down and savoring the moment. Of course, we don’t mean you have to “slow down” on the MPH, just the way your body responds to being on the open road, meandering through the countryside, taking it all in.
You know better than most the old adage, it’s not just getting there, but the ride itself that makes the journey.
Along some of our scenic country roads and byways you’ll find breathtaking waterfalls and iconic state parks, excellent craft beverage producers and wineries, farm stands and other wonderful experiences waiting to be discovered.
Keep an eye out for the return of popular local events like Poag’s Hole Hill Climb and Curtiss Wintercycle Therapy.
For all the wonder that comes from going somewhere with family or friends, with the ones you love, traveling on your own can often be a transformative experience.
For some, solo travel pushes them out of their comfort zone just enough to inspire them to grow. For others, it’s the perfect opportunity for self indulgence. Go at your own pace, see exactly what you want to see, skip sights that don’t appeal to you, savor your favorite foods and drinks.
The small towns that make up the Southern Finger Lakes offer more than charm and a slower pace. They also provide a safe setting without holding back on the exceptional experiences you’re looking to enjoy.
In 2017, Glamour Magazine identified the Finger Lakes as one of “8 U.S. Solo Travel Destinations You Probably Haven't Thought Of."
We’ve all missed this. The getting together. The recharging of our spirits with laughter and stories and simply from sharing experiences with the people who get us. The people who matter most.
Sure, many of us have been stuck at home and there are good things to come from that, like all the extra time we’ve gotten to spend with family. You know, those poor souls who were stuck there with us. We’ve played all the board games, binge watched more shows than we ever knew existed. Now is a chance to spend a different sort of quality time together. The kind of time where you can get outdoors, explore, discover, savor.
Now that we’ve been reminded or have finally figured out the value of spending time together, it’s about adding experiences to that time that take our togetherness to a whole other level.
Of course, we’ve also missed out on the chance to get together with other members of our family. The ones who have their own lives and their own homes. Now is the chance for reuniting with them.
We’ve missed out on time with friends. On closeness and proximity. On the excitement and the joy and the calmness, perhaps, of simply being with them. And while we still need to maintain some distance, being six feet away from the people you’re connected to deep down inside is so much better than being across town or across the country.
There’s a reason the song says, “reunited and it feels so good.”
Serenity. Tranquility. Peacefulness. Those terms don’t quite capture the essence of what makes Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes so special.
It’s almost indescribable: the sudden and often unexpected relief you feel when you arrive. The sense of calm that slowly settles into your bones. The release of all that stress you hold inside day-in, day-out.
We hear it time and time again. The utter astonishment. The sense of wonder. Not just in awe of the incomparable landscape, but over the unexpected perks of spending time in a place dotted with small towns, in an environment where there’s no hurry, where you can finally just slow down and catch you breath and reconnect with the world around you, with the people who matter most, with yourself.
"Although you aren't aware of it, you stockpile these experiences. . . . they fill you with a quiet contentment and deep down happy that although it may not always be at your surface, you may always draw upon it.” - Heather Houskeeper, The Botanical Hiker
Leave the malls and box stores for the crowds. Take advantage of the intimate small town shopping experience.
Enjoy a leisurely stroll with friends along beautiful brick sidewalks or on quaint town squares. Do some window shopping. Grab lunch and make a day of it.
With an assortment of antiques shops, specialty boutiques, unique galleries and art studios, small town shopping is making a comeback.
Whether you’re simply exploring your own backyard or you’ve decided to enjoy a longer stay too you know exactly who has been staying in your room, now’s your chance to take advantage of living like a local.
Staycations afford you the chance to explore the place you call home with different eyes and with a different intention. Instead of simply going about your daily routine, now’s your chance e to try that great restaurant you were saving for another time. Now’s the chance to explore some of those hiking trails you’ve heard about, to give craft beer a try.
In her article “10 Terrific Finger Lakes Staycations, Nancy E. McCarthy of the Democrat & Chronicle uses he words “idyllic” and “serene” to describe Hammondsport, claiming a visit will appeal to “art and lake lovers, antique pickers, foodies and wine connoisseurs.” She adds, “The drive down Keuka Lake’s pretty country roads to the lake’s southern tip is the perfect warmup act for the quaint 1856 village of Hammondsport.”
This particular small towns’ charm, assortment of shops, proximity to the most unique of all the Finger Lakes, exceptional wines and craft beverages, as well as spot on dining options make it the quintessential spot for a staycation.
Although, if you’re not from around here, that’s okay. There’s so much to experience from many wineries and craft beverage producers (there are twelve wineries, four breweries, a distillery and a cidery just in Hammondsport) to the many ways you can get a taste for lake life (paddling, swimming, lounging, picnicking, dining), Hammondsport is ideal for extended stays as they give you the opportunity to experience it all. Or to simply slow down and soak in the peacefulness and calmness of small town life.
By the time you leave, you’ll feel like one of the locals with your own favorite spots and probably a few secret one you won’t tell just anyone about, sharing them with only a select few.
Other towns in the area, like Corning which was voted "Most Fun Small Town in America" by readers of Rand McNally Magazine, offer diverse experiences ranging from shopping and culinary (we're talking great food as well as awesome craft brews and spirits), to art and culture. With world-class museums, brick sidewalks and treelined-streets, nearby hiking trails and paddling experiences (the river runs smack dab through the center of town), and exceptional food and craft beverages, Corning's Gaffer District is a destination of its own.
And each of our towns has their own local haunts, those dive bars, greasy spoons, ice cream shops and other local favorites. If you're from the area, you probably already know about some of these. Likely you don't know them all. Ask a local. They'll give you the inside scoop on hidden gems often tucked in among the more in your face touristy stops. As well as a few that are off the beaten path.
Whether you're looking for a good deal or simply something that authentically represents the area, spend a little time here and you'll soon feel like this is home. You might just discover why a number of the wonderful small businesses that make the area great were started by folks just like you. Folks who visited and found their heart here. You just might discover why so many people who visit return year after year.